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About This Site:

Hi, I’m Lisa and I am setting up this site as a journal to document the process of converting a minivan, specifically a 2012 Honda Odyssey, into a camper van and then to log my adventures. My goal is to have a camper van that will not only be good for weekend camping trips but also have the ability to sustain longer, much longer, road trips. The purpose of the van will be to explore and photograph North America. However, I will start in my home state of Florida. profile pic

This will also be the site where I will post and share my photography. Photography is my passion. Being able to travel around Florida and the USA taking photographs really excites me. My photography can also be seen at lisainstpete.com

About me: I was born in Jamaica and migrated to Florida with my family in 1980. I became a US citizen in 1997. I am married and have 2 children who are now in college. I have been told I am having a midlife crisis because I am selling my nice peppy Volvo to buy this minivan at a time when women my age are selling the van to buy the sporty car. But I feel ready for adventure.

Minivan Camping- Planning

trip planning

One of the things that attracts me to the concept of minivan camping is the ability to get up and go on a moment’s notice. I want to be able to escape on short notice. What I am learning is that is not so easy IF one is limited to legal campsites as opposed to stealth camping. The reason being that many campgrounds are unavailable on short notice. Most state campgrounds  here in Florida seem to be run by “Reserve America” and just booking the spot through them adds another $6-7.00 to the fee of  $20-30/night and then there is a cancellation fee of approx $18.00. Sites open up 11 months in advance and smart snowbirds are on it immediately. Some parks have local first come first serve spots available but they are difficult to come by. So I find I am having to book out several weeks to month ahead of time just to get a spot. There goes the spontaneity, I mean, what if the weather’s bad or something else comes up …

So far, I find myself hesitant to try stealthing for a few reasons: It gets dark so early in winter that I would have to find somewhere to hang out until later evening and then move again to my night time spot. The necessity of being subtle is not quite as relaxing as camping legally somewhere, nor is the possibility of the dreaded knock on the door if someone tells you you have to move. On short weekend trips, this searching around would seemingly impinge on my relaxation and enjoyment time. I’m sure that once I get used to this, it will become a non-issue but that has not yet come to pass. I am hoping that in the future, I will look back on this post and say, Lisa, what a fool you were to worry.

So after a week of internet searching, I came across a You Tube site,  “Gone with the Wynns” that spoke of FREE camping on water management district (WMD) lands. All that is required is that you register for free online. That seemed like an option well worth exploring. There seems to be many areas available through out the state as long as hookups and lots of amenities are not needed. If you happen to be backpacking into the site- even more options open up. Many of the sites seem to be along the Florida Trail so my hiking needs would also be met. With my solar equipped minivan, I am golden, next weekend I will try this option for the first time.

I am hoping that after I explore for a while, the planning stage will be less onerous.

New Years Eve 2017, Ft. De Soto

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North Beach Ft. De Soto

For the last day of 2017, I went to my favorite local park, Ft De Soto Beach. It was a beautiful sunny day in the 70’s here in St. Petersburg at a time when much of the USA is suffering from record cold temperatures. See Niagara Falls frozen.

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Kayak Rental
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Someone going paddle-boarding
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Selfie with my new I phone 8

My daughter and I got BOGO iPhone 8 for Christmas. This is a big upgrade from the iPhone 5 for us. I am loving the camera on this phone. Also upgraded service to Verizon so that I have better coverage when I go off wandering on my minivan camping adventures.

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Drift wood

 

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Walk along the East Beach.

As I walked along, I did what many others do on New years eve, I reflected on the successes and challenges of 2017 and tried to set goals for 2018. This was a year of changes  for me. My youngest (of two) moved out to go to college which left my husband and I as the aptly named, “empty nesters.” However this was short lived as at the end of the year my son decided to move home and take a semester off from college.

I spent a good part of the spring and summer with vast quantities of help from my husband (read: he did most of the work) outfitting my minivan for camping adventure. The van was finally ready and I did two short and very educational trips in it before the winter break when the kids came home from school.

 

Florida fall color
Florida Fall Color

I spent a huge amount of time on You Tube and reading blogs and books about minivan camping, learning about interior design and dreaming about the nomadic lifestyle. Unfortunately, my husband is not too interested in the nomadic life so much of my exploring will be solo. I think I will start with exploring my home state of Florida as it is really cold “up north” and I will be able to work out the kinks relatively close to home.

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Loggerhead Shrike

I spent a lot of time practicing and improving my photography. I decided to expand my bird photography to include the tiny little birds I usually ignore. I learned that there are about a million types of warblers and they all look pretty similar :).

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Nesting pair of Ospreys

As I was wandering around at Ft. De Soto looking for the great horned owl that is apparently nesting in an osprey nest, I was in regular communication with my two sisters discussing my Mom’s condition. Unfortunately, her mental health /memory status  is deteriorating and this is causing a host of other problems. We are trying to find ways to help my parents safely maintain independence.

I never did find that owl, so will have to go back to look another day…

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From the iPhone 8
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East Beach Ft De Soto ( iPhone 8)

New Years Resolutions:

Maintain the weight loss, healthy eating habits from 2017

Start lifting weights again- I lapsed badly with this in 2017.

Go camping/ exploring  as much as is possible while still working.

Pay less attention to the news.

Live and let live. Let go.

 

First Solo Minivan Camping in Ocala National Forest

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Lake Eaton

First solo minivan camping trip:

With a four day weekend, I set off on my first minivan solo camping trip to the Ocala National Forest. I felt a nearly equal amount of trepidation and elation as I pulled out of the driveway. This destination was estimated to be about  2 1/2 to 3 hours away. This was a trip I had been planning and anticipating for months while getting the Odyssey van ready for camping. I was pretty sure I had everything I needed packed away and I was ready for adventure. The Ocala National Forest was somewhere I wanted to explore for sometime but had not gotten around to. I had spent the better part of a week researching campgrounds, hiking trails, and maps to get prepared. I downloaded the Gaia navigation map system and ordered the recommended Delorme Florida Atlas and Gazetteer which was delivered minutes before I left. I had to assuage my fear about getting lost in the forest.

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Campsite at Lake Eaton

Without too much difficulty, I found the Lake Eaton campground and claimed my spot. This was a secluded and beautiful  campground. Setting up camp was ridiculously easy, I put out my chair to mark my spot and the friendly host came by to register me. With no tent etc.to set up, I was immediately free to explore.

 

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Lake Eaton loop trail

I checked out the lake and fishing pier and went on a short hike on the Lake Eaton loop trail. This was mostly through the Florida hammock and had 2 access points to see the lake. There was also a sinkhole trail that I planned to check out the next morning as by then it was late afternoon and I did not want to get stuck in the woods after dusk.

Back at the campsite, it was getting dark and I had to hurry to eat my dinner before it was fully dark. There were a lot or warnings about bears and eating before dark and my imagination started conjuring bears watching me eat just beyond my field of vision . This was a small campsite with only 13 fairly primitive sites and there were only 2-3 other campers here. My bear fear pushed me inside after dark and I read my book and went to bed early.

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Interior of my van

The next morning, the road approaching the sinkhole trail and the trail head parking area was well populated with hunters and their dogs. I bravely and stupidly started on the trail wearing my red shirt but finally abandoned that hike when I met up with one of the hunting dogs on the trail. The sinkhole hike would have to wait until after hunting season. I did not want to be an accidental victim of a trigger happy hunter.

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Sunset Lake Eaton

Saturday morning I headed out to my next spot which was recommended by the camp host. It was about a 30 minute drive and google maps led me astray but I soon found my next site at Hopkins Prairie Campground. This was a gorgeous campground on the edge of the prairie with easy access to the Florida Scenic Trail. Once again, there was no camp set up necessary and I immediately packed up my camera gear and water and went for an afternoon hike. I left the van parked in the sun to charge the solar panels. I  realized somewhere along the way, I had lost cellular service but I  managed to get a text off to Ron (husband) telling him my location and that signal was poor to absent so that he would not worry if he didn’t hear from me.

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Hopkins Prairie Campsite
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View from campground

The Florida Scenic Trail heading north immediately opened out onto the Hopkins prairie which was wide open and beautiful. My hike was slow as I  frequently stopped to photograph the scenery. I got nice photos of a scrub jay and okay shots of a kestrel. The warblers were present but as always difficult to capture. There was no evidence of hunting activity and I was grateful for that.

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That evening, I planned to get back to the campground a bit earlier to settle in and eat dinner before night fall. I relaxed and had a beer while my dehydrated food reheated. It turned out I had noisy drinking neighbors so I ended up parking in a different site a bit later on. I really appreciated how easy this was with van camping- no tent to move. I Just started up and drove a little bit over to another empty site. It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon and that evening I sat out and enjoyed it.

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Set up for dinner

Sunday morning called for hike going south. That area of the trail was more wooded and I worried a bit about hunters but only saw one truck on a cross road. In the afternoon, I returned to the prairie to look for more birds.

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Scrub Jay

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warbler

 

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red headed woodpecker

As I got back to my site and started getting ready dinner, I  was surprised by a visit from Ron and our friend, Steve. It turned out that Ron had been very worried about no contact from me and decided to make the drive to check on me. I feel terrible to have worried him but was happy for the company. This was short lived as after just a short visit, they left. Fortunately, I had a bottle of wine to share with them.

As it was now Sunday night, the campground had emptied out and only myself and 2 other campers remained. I started to feel fearful about being a lone female camper.  I read my book and went to sleep thinking I will definitely need to work on conquering fear demons. It didn’t help that my pepper spray had expired in 2011.

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Morning fog on the prairie

In the morning, the day dawned bright and cheery and all was right in the world again. I had a nice walk taking pictures, cooked breakfast and took off.

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Camp breakfast-eggs and cheese
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Alexander Springs

Took a detour on the way home to check out Alexander springs. The water was a consistent 72 degrees and crystal clear and so I had a swim. The actual spring was under the bright blue patch.

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What I learned from this trip:

  • Have to get used to night fear.
  • Need to develop a protocol for no cellular signal
  • Need Verizon for better service
  • Need good point and shoot camera so I don’t have to keep switching lenses.
  • Need to carry extra wine and beer for unexpected sharing.
  • The van worked comfortably for camping and I had everything I needed.
  • Need new (unexpired) pepper spray.
  • It will take time to get used to solo camping but will be so worth it.

Myakka River State Park Camping

grassy trail- Myakka

Camping trail

I decided to head south to go camping overnight Sunday to Monday due to colder weather forecast for the late weekend ( low in 40s).  Luckily, I am off on Mondays and since most weekend campers have to go back to work, it is possible to get last minute campsites. For me, that delays the time when I will have to …stealth camp. This was my second solo camping trip in The Van. (I am behind on posting about the first trip but will get to it)

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Warbler

Myakka River SP is known for birding and they also have 38 miles of hiking trails so all in all, a good and close destination. It is also a popular destination for lots of RVs. Unfortunately, they do not separate the RV sites from the tent sites and all the sites have full hookups and cost $30. My site was right next to the big RV with the wailing toddler who was not the “happy camper” as their RV flag proclaimed. Maybe it was freezing its butt off in the 46 F night.

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FYI-there is the exception of some primitive sites that can be hiked to.

Initially, I was quite disappointed by the RV crowds, overused campsites but as soon as I parked at the trail head and started to hike, that was left behind and a whole new world of the Florida prairie landscape opened up. Needless to say, I did not encounter any other hikers LOL. After about a 2.5 mile hike and near sunset, I drove around and found the spot where the birds hang out. I spent a few hours their photographing the roseate spoonbills that were hanging out and talking camera shop with another photographer there.roseate spoonbill takeoff smroseate spoonbill wings sm

I went back to the campsite after sunset, warmed up and ate my dehydrated camp food, had an illegal beer or two and retired to my van to escape the wailing baby and to warm up. There I discovered that my i pad that I use for reading had reverted to the “hello” screen and would not come back without wifi connection which of course was not available. Note to self: always bring a real book for emergencies. At that point, there was not much else to do but go to bed at the late hour of 8:30.

After a cold but fairly restful night, I brewed my morning coffee, packed up and leaving the wailing baby behind, returned to the bird spot.

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These snowy egrets doing their mating dance was the highlight of the am photography session. This was the first time I have had the privilege of photographing this event. A few other photographers are there and I fight off camera/lens envy.

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The black vultures are plentiful and strangely beautiful in their own ugly way.

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A juvenile bald eagle did a few fly bys.

 

And then off for another hike in the prairie land. This time I did a 6.2 mile loop and saw one couple with a dog. I’m telling you, everyone stays on the well traveled roads and boardwalk areas and maybe a quarter mile into the trail.

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The trail opens out to the prairie and suddenly, the landscape opens up as far as the eye can see. Hiking out here all alone gives me an immense feeling of gratitude and well being that I have been missing. I struggle to capture the feeling with my camera but the vastness of the wide open space is elusive. Being alone, I can stop and stalk a warbler for as long as I like. I realize that I don’t really care if the campsite is trampled or loud because that’s just a place to park and sleep for the night.myakka trail 3 sm

Just around the bend is the prairie.

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The approach trail is shaded with beautiful oak trees with moss, ferns and other  epiphytes that glow in the afternoon sun.

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Oak trees covered with old man’s beard moss

Before heading home, I stopped to brew some coffeein my french press coffee maker. It makes a great cup of coffee but OMG- you can burn your mouth on it for a long time. I finally had to pull over to transfer the coffee to another container so it would cool enough to drink.

coffee for the road

Some notes to remember from this trip:

Hard copy book

Verizon plan so I have some connectivity and Ron does not worry. AT&T coverage sucks.

Figure out how to use the Gaia trail  app I bought so it does not quickly eat all my battery while hiking.

Get over my fear of driving over Sunshine skyway bridge so I don’t have to drive the long way around and can save 30 min driving time going south.

Remember point and shoot camera for scenery shots so I don’t have to keep switching out lenses.

The coffee burns hurt my mouth 🙂

 

 

 

 

First Overnight in Van and Parent’s Weekend

So we drove to Tallahassee to visit daughter for parents day weekend. This seemed like a good opportunity to try out sleeping in the van for the first time.  The fact that we saved over $600 in lodging made me feel justified just a bit for spending so much already in modifying the van. It will take several more weekends to break even.

We had a fun evening at the College Town pre-game block party and even won a $50 gift certificate drawing to a FSU clothing/gear store. That just about never happens. Daughter was happy to pick out some more FSU items.

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These bicycle transports do a brisk business

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as did this electric car

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Then much later that evening, we drove her back to the dorm and drove ourselves to one of our lovely motel chain parking lots and  had an OK night of sleep in their parking lot. We learned a few things such as once the bed was folded out for the night, it became very difficult to reach the usually accessible storage area under the bed. Unfortunately, the clip on window fan was stuck under there and so the air became a bit hot and stifling. We were nervous about turning on the vent fan because it does make some noise on the outside of the van and we were a bit paranoid.

The other thing that happened was a very rude awakening by the grounds crew which as you might imagine, was very loud just outside the van. However, when they were finished we dozed back off and overall had a decent night of sleep. Once awake, we went to Starbucks for coffee. Unfortunately for Ron, their men’s room was out of order.

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This is us at the gameme and raina smnoles win sm

The second night, we knew much better and got everything out that we needed and were much more comfortable in the… parking garage which was much quieter especially as we did not get to bed until almost 2am. At that point, we were just too tired to drive somewhere else and decided to stay put. We had much better ventilation from the fan and sunroof (which we forgot to open the first night..duh).

Overall the van was quite comfortable to sleep in. We plan to get window rain guards/wind deflectors so we can open the windows a bit more without attracting attention.

The solar panels worked  well. No problems powering the Dometic cooler/refrigerator and various fans.

The Florida State University campus is very beautiful and Daughter gave us a tour before heading back home Sunday evening.

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I love the old brick buildings and oak trees

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This is a very pretty campus

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Solar Panel Installed

solar controller

The solar panel is wired to the controller unit which regulates the charge going to the battery and also distributes the power. The solar panel provides 150 watts of power. I am hoping it will be enough to power my fridge cooler and fans and charge various devices.

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Solar panel being installed

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The wiring is now hidden behind the panels. A solar system monitor displays battery charge status and power usage among other cool things.

The Van will get its trial run this weekend up to Tallahassee for parent weekend at FSU.

Pelicans

flying in formation

Enjoyed watching the pelicans flying in formation today. I parked myself on the seawall right where they fly by to settle in for the night.

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pelicans in flight

palm frond colors

Just liked the colors on this palm frond bobbing along in the bay. Remnant of hurricane Irma flotsam

Hinby at Northshore

As I got ready to leave, I noticed how beautiful Hinby looks against the backdrop of downtown St Pete.

Lucky to live here but looking forward to some road trips now that fall is here. Here in St Pete, it is still 90’s in the day but getting breezier and and a touch cooler in the evenings.